Building The Right Environment To Insure Against Catastrophy

In the days of decreased budgets and decreased staffing, a company’s environment is more important than ever. You can easily see the difference in morale between a company that profers the mantra of “Just be happy you have a job,” and one that really embraces teamwork, sharing and reasonable perks for all employees. Many of the tech companies have been called into question for things as simple as ping-pong tables as they question productivity while the sport is being played, but many are missing the bigger picture. From a bottom line perspective, the environment that has been created where there is support and true teamwork enables those companies to have a built-in emergency system should something go horribly wrong. Those who are managing with the feeling that as long as they can hit their numbers with a skeleton crew should be crossing their fingers and/or praying that a major catastrophy never rears its ugly head. For those companies with the right environment will find success where companies without the enviroment will break – almost like an insurance policy against catastrophy.

Courtesy of BVHE

I had seen the value added material piece, “Studio Stories: The Movie Vanishes” for Toy Story 2 that recounted how they almost lost the entire movie when someone enterred the command “RM*” on the linux servers while making the film. But it didn’t really tell the whole story…

I did find the whole story in a piece posted on The Next Web blog. The article delved deeper into the entire experience and the later need to actually delete a bunch of material on purpose to start over. Much of it was garnered through the deeper interview with Oren Jacob, the former CTO for Pixar. Though the details of their server issues surrounding the development of the film and the subsequent rebuilding of most of the film in only nine months were interesting, what was really monumental was the discovery of the environment that enabled them to pull off a ridiculous amount of work under huge amounts of stress successfully.

The interview details how there was no witch hunt or pointing fingers as they tried to find a solution to a complex issue. They were all about solving problems. And, once they solved the initial problem – they didn’t relax – but stayed on it to ensure that it was right. That deep coverage of the minutiae allowed them to curb further damaging issues after that. The experience they had – involving more than just the IS team working day and night to fix the many files – probably set them up so that they could start almost from scratch in redoing the film when the first cut wasn’t working out like they had hoped.

The article holds Pixar up as “a crucible of commitment to quality,” but it really is about their legacy as a company that is all about the best product while taking care of their people. Many companies say they are commited to quality – but only to a certain time and cost consideration. It is the ones who build infrastructure and an atmosphere that truly elevates the commitment to quality that not only keeps above water, but excels.

These days, young engineers who are willing to code for two weeks straight are sort of a dime a dozen. It is almost like the 21st century version of the young traders you can see depicted in the Ben Affleck film, THE BOILER ROOM. But even the most dedicated can burn out if they are not taken care of. The fact that there was such a system of support for employees by staff and other employees seemingly helped to not only get the project done on a killer schedule, but to do so without major burnout and jeopardy placed on other projects.

None of this is to say that the Pixar team didn’t have their moments of extreme hardship or issues arise, but there’s something to be said for a sense of team and coming together for a common good. Too many companies reduce resources and expect the team to deliver the same output, or more. At some point, that proverbial rubber band holding everything together is bound to break. Doesn’t it make sense to look at some amenities as insurance expenses for the future if they can help in building teamwork and sense of family so that disasters of any kind can be mitigated?

Take the time to figure out your team insurance policy to enable you to deal with catastrophe before a figurative RM* kills what your company has built.


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